There are many reasons why our little ones struggle with bedtime.
It can be all sort of things- teething, feeling poorly, digestive problems, hungry/thirsty, ‘needing’ attention or experiencing darkness or separation anxiety to name a few!
Remember that almost all children go through different phases and the sleep issues may change as they get older. Here’s how you can help your toddler develop good sleeping habits that will ‘hopefully’ carry right through to adulthood.
1) Introduce a proper bedtime routine and stick to it.
The best way for your child (and you) to rest is to set a routine and stick to it religiously. Setting up a series of events that occur without fail every evening allows your child to calm down and feel reassured knowing what’s going to happen next. Here are some ideas to help your child make the transition from wide awake to fast asleep without all the tears and frustrations that come with it.
- Respect the same bedtime every night, at a regular time, with events in the same order and in a quiet environment. For example after dinner you can give your child a bath and then read them a story whilst tucked up in bed, or have some calming music playing in the background. Always say the same/similar parting words and a hug or kiss before quietly leaving the room. Leaving the door ajar with a landing light on, or a nightlight is also helpful to combat darkness anxiety.
- At the beginning try to use a book that talks about bed time. Your child will be more motivated to cooperate if you invite them to do as the character of the story does.
- To prevent your child from getting up all the time, make sure they’re not hungry and went to the toilet before bed. You can also leave a very small sippy cup of water on a table near their bed or in their cot.
- Always pre-warn your toddler that this is the last song or story and then turn off the lights after saying good night. Speak softly and calmly at all times (but firmly) to reassure and comfort. You can sit outside the door (out of sight) and calmly reassure them you are nearby if they cry out before nodding off.
- Avoid overexciting activities from a certain hour (after the bath for example) no more running around or games of hide-and-seek. Same applies for video games and screens that keep your child in a state of excitement. Instead, offer quiet activities: such as drawing, reading and listening to music.
2) Always give Attention and Praise
Whether it’s a day, an afternoon or even a couple of hours without seeing you, toddlers often become needy and clingy!
Some will use all kind of strategies to avoid bedtime in an attempt to get attention from you.
If you take advantage of the bedtime routine to give your child the attention they need and follow the good behaviour with praise wherever possible you can attempt to avoid the tears and tantrums before they occur.
3) Provide comfort and confidence.
Some children stretch the bedtime routine right out because they do not like the parental separation that occurs when they are alone in their bed. Others have certain fears which may be difficult to read at such a young age - fear of the dark, or ‘monsters’.
Here’s how you can reassure your little one:
- Encourage them to sleep with an object they love, ideally that smells of you! (blanket, teddy, doll)
- For monsters, you can add some water and glitter to a spray bottle and spray the room before lights off, call it ‘monster spray’. Obviously the monsters can’t access where the monster spray is!
- Install a night light in the bedroom or close by.
Finally, try to subtly minimise their fears and feelings whilst being understanding and listening when they express them. If you understand where they stem from you have a much better chance of being able to help them get a restful 12 hours sleep (the dream!).
Written by Bertille Terras